Wayne Bennett has emerged as a surprise driver behind Parramatta’s strong bid to poach Chris Sandow, with the supercoach encouraging Eels management to chase the feisty Rabbitohs half.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal Bennett heartily endorsed Sandow to Eels coach Stephen Kearney and recruitment boss Peter Nolan, prompting Parramatta to offer the 22-year-old a rich three-year contract worth $800,000.
Having extended the contracts of John Sutton and Nathan Merritt this week, the Rabbitohs are now struggling to match their rivals – leaving the Eels as odds-on favourites to finally land a high-profile No. 7.
The Eels have already secured another promising Rabbitoh in centre Junior Vaivai, and are also close to signing Roosters back-rower Tom Symonds.
Rabbitohs co-owner Russell Crowe and incoming coach Michael Maguire remain keen to keep Sandow at Redfern, but he’s expected to announce his defection in the days after Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs.
Sandow was also waiting on the birth of his second child to finalise his future, and the new arrival came on Thursday.
Sandow has previously expressed a desire to see out his career at Souths, but Parramatta’s offer appears too good to refuse.
Parramatta CEO Paul Osborne refused to comment on the club’s recruitment when contacted last night.
However, sources have confirmed Bennett played a substantial role in convincing Kearney and Nolan to seriously consider Sandow as the key to solving Parramatta’s generation-long halves woes.
Bennett shares a close relationship with both Eels officials, having helped Kearney guide New Zealand to World Cup glory in 2008 and worked alongside Nolan at the Broncos.
Satisfied with the current halves at Newcastle, the incoming Knights coach chose not to chase Sandow personally, but it’s understood Bennett would have done so had he returned to Brisbane.
Bennett has made it known to close friends that he sees Sandow as a future Queensland half, and he was last year enlisted into the Maroons’ emerging Origin squad.
With incumbent No. 7 Jeff Robson almost certain to be released, the Eels had been looking at Warriors half James Maloney and Wallaby playmaker Quade Cooper as possible recruits.
Despite a $600,000-a-year carrot, they struck out on Cooper last year, as well as veterans Matt Orford and Brett Kimmorley.
Prodigal code hopper Craig Gower was shopped to the Eels last month, but neither Kearney nor the club’s board were interested. Maloney is now expected to re-sign with New Zealand, leaving the Eels intent on landing Sandow.